April 13, 2009
A protest rally broke out inside the Mactan Export Processing Zone (MEPZ) at 8:30 this morning. It was the first ever rally inside the export zone in its decades long existence. Around 70 workers of Sawo Inc., a Finnish-owned firm producing sauna and spa heaters for export, marched from their factory to the gates of MEPZ II, held a short program there and then went onto the DOLE office.
“Our illegal termination is nothing else but retaliation for the compliant we filed at the DOLE two weeks ago,” alleged Elena Juen, a leader of the protesting Sawo workers. The workers were not permitted to enter the factory today as they supposedly had been terminated. Last April 1, 2009, 78 Sawo employees had filed complaints of illegal termination and illegal suspension on behalf of their fellow workers. They also charged the head of the Sawo human resources department of fomenting “labor troubles” instead of promoting “harmonious relations.”
Some of the workers received termination letters through the mail last Saturday while others received theirs today. In the letter, the company claimed that it was suffering losses due to the economic crisis and thus would close down certain sections and layoff workers. The workers though assert that the factory has not experienced a reduction in sales and in production.
“The case of Sawo is the clearest example yet of capitalists using the crisis as an alibi to demolish labor standards and workers rights. The mere allegation of serious losses due to the global recession is now a blank check to suppress workers who are asserting their rights. With barely three weeks to go until Labor Day, the struggles in Sawo, Keppel and Giardini illustrate the state of the workers today,” argued Renato Magtubo, chairperson of Partido ng Manggagawa (PM).
At the DOLE office in downtown Cebu, the workers plan to contest their termination and file new complaints of illegal dismissal. “We are appealing for the support of our fellow Cebuano workers,” Juen asked.
PM announced that they would mobilize the organized labor of Cebu in solidarity with the fight of the Sawo workers. “If the Sawo labor dispute is not settled by May 1, then it will be one of the key demands of the Labor Day mobilization in Cebu,” Magtubo declared.
The 78 workers who signed the complaint had all been terminated and were not allowed to enter the factory today. This left only three regular workers and numerous contractual workers operating the factory.
The labor dispute was sparked by a quarrel at the corporate board room of Sawo. A group of workers who had sided with one of the Finnish owners who had been expelled by the present head of the company were terminated on trumped up charges. When a bigger group of employees sympathized with the workers who had initially been terminated, they too were retrenched last weekend.